There will be another Grenfell Tower-type disaster if ministers do not act, Steve Reed has warned fellow MPs.
His comments came during a Westminster hall debate at the Houses of Parliament.
Mr Reed, who is Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Civil Society) told fellow MPs:
Part of the Government’s response to Grenfell must be to ensure that it can never happen again, but nearly a year later, far too little has been done to give people living in blocks like Grenfell with similar cladding that very important reassurance. In 2009, the Lakanal House fire caused the loss of six lives. In 2013, the coroner reporting on that tragedy told the Government that the fire safety guidance was confusing, unclear and not fit for purpose, and that it needed to be revised, but the Government did nothing. In 2016, flammable cladding was put on Grenfell Tower, and in 2017 Grenfell Tower went up in flames. Had the Government listened and acted, those people would be alive today. Industry figures show that there is still an average of one fire a month relating to that kind of cladding. How long will it be before one of those fires is not put out? Eventually, that will happen unless we take that cladding down.
In the immediate aftermath of the fire, Ministers stood up and declared that the cladding was not compliant with the guidance or the regulations, but the Government’s chief fire safety adviser signed off specification for the same kind of cladding for use on high-rise residential blocks. That emphasises the coroner’s point, after the Lakanal House fire, that the regulations and guidance were unclear and confusing. Ministers did not know, because they cannot interpret the guidance any more than anybody else can.
We will have to wait and see what the Hackitt review comes out with, but there are widespread concerns that it is compromised because there are so many individuals on it representing vested financial interests, and the early reports of what is coming out of the review do nothing to allay those fears. The Government must act without further delay.
My concern, which is widely held in the sector and by people living in blocks that have the same kind of cladding as Grenfell, is that a money-go-round is operating in the fire safety sector. The BRE (Building Research Establishment) makes considerable revenue from running fire safety tests for cladding manufacturers, which are able to design their own tests and keep rerunning them, slightly differently, if they fail, until they get the result they desire. They are then able to keep the detail of those multiple tests, and even the fact that they have taken place, secret on grounds of commercial confidentiality. That simply cannot be right. That gives the BRE, which also drafts the fire safety guidance, a direct financial interest in allowing the use of semi-combustible cladding, which is banned in many EU countries, because non-combustible cladding would not require the same level of very profitable testing—of course, it also would not result in so many deaths.
Ministers need to start listening to independent sources of advice. The chair of the Government’s fire safety expert panel is a trustee of the BRE. The culture that allows that is why nothing has changed since Lakanal House or Grenfell last year. One of the reasons why Ministers do not want to recognise these failings is that they do not want to accept their share of the responsibility for the tragedy that happened at Grenfell Tower, but they must recognise failings if they are to put them right. Ministers must now change course. There can be no more Grenfells, but there will be another if Ministers do not act.
Mr Reed’s comments came during a Westminster hall debate which began with a 72-second silence to mark the lives lost in the Grenfell Tower fire.
Paul Scully Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact moved a motion that: This House has considered an e-petition relating to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Motion lapsed. (Grenfell Tower inquiry Westminster hall 4.30pm 14th May TheyWorkForYou).
Further reading: MP Reed hails victory as Barratts pay £2m Citiscape bill (Inside Croydon website April 20, 2018)